Tornadoes are normally associated with destruction--destroying homes, launching cows into the air, and appearing as a cathartic disaster option in SimCity games. In Ignition Entertainment's Tornado for the Nintendo DS, though, you use the titular weather phenomenon to restore Earth to order. With a design much like Katamari Damacy, the game sounds like it would be strangely addictive, but because of a few major slipups, Tornado ends up being frustrating and potentially disastrous.
In Tornado, a character known only as The Prince has sucked up Earth's countries into his own realm for safekeeping, and it's your job--as one of several anthropomorphic felines known as Cosmic Cleaners--to put them all back in place. The cleaners can spin themselves into large tornadoes that transport any item they come in contact with. Each successful transport causes your tornado to grow in size, giving you the ability to transport even larger objects. There are special items strewn about each level that will help you gather up more objects--such as the power-up that temporarily sends three tornadoes in different directions to do your bidding--if you meet certain conditions and apply the correct touch-screen technique.
The most noticeable issue rears its head almost the instant you begin playing your first level. The camera--which gives you an isometric perspective of the polygonal playing field--is, in many instances, too close to everything. Even as your tornado grows and the camera pans out, you can never see as much as you'd want to. Learning where landmarks are on a given level then becomes more of a chore than it should be, and this is especially irritating when you're presented with goals such as "find five batteries before the time limit is up."
The pairing of goals with a time limit is another significant issue. Throughout the course of the Story mode, you must find fellow Cosmic Cleaners to use during gameplay. Yet they're sometimes hidden in random structures throughout the level, and there's no indication where you should start looking. By themselves, these goals aren't entirely offensive, but trying to find a randomly hidden character within five minutes--not to mention having to spend time to enlarge your tornado to an effective size--can be infuriating. The game is just unnecessarily difficult, and it wouldn't be exaggerating to say that you might retry some levels 20 times just to pass them.
Even if you come to grips with the goal structure, there's still your aching stylus hand to deal with. Your tornadoes can grow in size only if you energize them by drawing on the touch screen in a circular motion. As you transport items, a five-level meter begins to materialize. The stylus antics serve to fill those meters with energy, and with each full level, your tornado grows a set amount. The rub is that as the tornado touches the object it's trying to transport, it loses energy. So, you're constantly scribbling on the screen as you frantically try to pick up everything in sight before time runs out.
As you complete each of the 10 stages in Tornado, they become available in the Arcade and Versus modes. Part of the allure of games like this is that you're encouraged to pick up the controller and accumulate to your heart's content, and the secondary modes in Tornado get this partially right where the main Story mode doesn't. The close camera, scribbling, and time limit are still present, but at least they're not tied to mandatory goals, so you're free to see how much of each level you can clean up in a relatively stress-free atmosphere. You also get a log of all the crazy items you've transported, and the game keeps track of how much of a level you've cleaned up (in percentage points), so there's incentive to go grab that one extra percent.
Tornado's presentation is somewhat entertaining. Its blocky humanoid characters, random objects, and goofy sound effects are stylistically reminiscent of the Katamari series. Even when you're trying to complete the game's frustrating sixth level (the United States), transporting bluntly named Bikini Women and hearing their comical yelps will make you crack a slight smile.
Tornado has its heart in the right place. The cumulative gameplay design is easy to understand and get into, and at its core, the act of swallowing things up into a controllable tornado is good, silly fun. All it takes are a few significant problems to bring down a fun experience, though, and sadly, Tornado has just enough of them.